January traditionally brings with it the urge to seek a week of winter sun.
But Sharm el Sheikh – the Egyptian resort which, for so long, has been a staple of British escapes to the beach during the cold months – remains in stasis in the wake of the crash of a St Petersburg-bound flight shortly after take off on October 31. The loss of the Metrojet plane caused the deaths of 224 Russian passengers and crew, with Moscow subsequently stating that the incident was caused by an explosive device.
• British tourists ready to defy fears for cheap holidays
British holidaymakers were evacuated from the Red Sea destination during the first two weeks of November. Since then, Sharm el Sheikh has been all but off limits, with the Foreign Office (FO) continuing to advise against “all but essential travel by air to or from” the popular beach zone.
What does this mean for travellers?
Is it impossible to take a holiday to Sharm el Sheikh at the moment?
Effectively. While much of Egypt is currently deemed unsafe for visitors, the FO does not currently warn against travelling to “the tourist areas along the Nile river (e.g Luxor, Qina, Aswan, Abu Simbel and the Valley of the Kings) or the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada.”
However, this is a technicality – as, thanks to the guidelines on the safety of air travel, UK carriers have not flown to Sharm el Sheikh since November 17. You could, in theory, enjoy a holiday at the resort, if only you could reach it.
Will flights be suspended for much longer?
On January 19, easyJet announced an extension of cancellations of all services to and from Sharm el-Sheikh until May 27. The low-cost airline said it “won’t resume flights until the Government’s advice changes,” and was extending the hold on flights from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Manchester, «to help provide some certainty for passengers booked to fly to Sharm el Sheikh in spring and early summer 2016.»
British Airways has cancelled all services up to and including March 26.
Package holiday operators Thomson, First Choice and Thomas Cook – which offer charter flights to Sharm el Sheikh as well as hotel breaks – are presenting a united front, and have declared that they will not fly to the resort (or sell any holidays) until March 23.
The Red Sea resort is lacking its usual British guests Photo: Getty
However, the dates will almost certainly be pushed back if the FO warning stays in place — they are paper deadlines which will be ignored if the situation stays unaltered.
Why are flights still suspended?
The cause of the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 is still under investigation – but Russian opinion that the plane was brought down by terrorist action – most probably a bomb – has focused attention on security levels at Sharm el Sheikh’s international airport. Last week the Egyptian government announced £26 million worth of extra security for tourist resorts, including X-ray machines and sniffer dogs — and said it had hired safety consultants Control Risks to assess all procedures at airports across the country.
It is unclear when any findings will be announced – and whether they will be sufficient to satisfy the British government that processes at Sharm el Sheikh are diligent enough to protect its citizens.
The FO’s only word on the suspension has been non-committal – a careful statement that “we are liaising with travel companies so that they are able to resume flights and holidays in Sharm el Sheikh as soon as appropriate security arrangements are in place.” John Casson, the British ambassador to Egypt, said on December 21 that Britain and Egypt, «have agreed to allow the return of flights from the UK to Sharm El-Sheikh as soon as possible.»
Can I still book a holiday to Sharm el Sheikh?
Yes – if you are prepared to wait out the current period of uncertainty, and are optimistic that flights will resume in March and May. Both Thomas Cook and Thomson, for example, are still selling breaks to the resort beyond their self-imposed red-letter date of March 23. Your reward for such speculation will, perhaps unsurprisingly, be a bargain price and quiet beaches. A seven-night break at the four-star Royal Holiday Resort on Naama Bay, flying on April 21, is currently available for £603 a head via Thomas Cook.
I had booked to go to Sharm el Sheikh in February. Can I recover my money?
Yes. EasyJet is offering full refunds on bookings for Sharm el Sheikh before May 27, or a voucher for the value of the original flights for any other easyJet destination.
Thomas Cook is offering full refunds on holidays to Sharm el Sheikh which were supposed to take place before March 23 – or will give a discount of £30 per person if you reinvest your money in one of its packages to an alternative destination.
Thomson and First Choice is taking an almost identical line, but offering discounts of £50 a head if you switch to a selection of last-minute trips (to the Canary Islands, the Spanish Costas, Majorca, Cape Verde and Cyprus, among others) for travel before April. Other operators will follow a similar policy, but check the small print on your booking if you intended to head to Sharm el Sheikh before the latest flight resumption dates.
British Airways said it was keeping services between March 28 and June 30 «under review», allowing customers with bookings between these dates to claim a full refund, use the value of their ticket towards a new trip to an alternative destination, or to rebook their flight to Sharm el Sheikh for travel after September 15 2016. BA does not fly to the Egyptian resort in July, August or early September.
The Metrojet crash on October 31 claimed 224 lives
What will happen if I book a break and the flight suspension is extended?
You will be granted the same option to cancel or re-book. In short, a tour operator is obliged to let you cancel a booking or change it without financial penalty if the FO deems a destination to be unsafe. You can find more on your travel rights in an era dogged by terrorism via Telegraph Travel expert Nick Trend’s recent column on the issue here.
Where could I go instead of Sharm el Sheikh?
If you have your heart set on an Egyptian beach, it is still possible to bask on the edge of the Red Sea. Flights are still operating and holidays are still available to the rival resort area of Hurghada, due south-west of Sharm el Sheikh across the Gulf of Suez – which is not currently affected by FO travel restrictions. However, there was a knife attack at the Bella Vista Resort in the town on January 9, which left three people hospitalised, and the Foreign Office is advising British nationals in the resort to exercise caution and follow local security advice.
EasyJet said it has good availability for winter sun destinations such as the Canary Islands, Cyprus, Malta and Morocco.
Alternatively, click on the following links for a selection of suitably sun-soaked destinations for January, February and March.
What about Tunisia? Is it still unsafe to go?
Tunisia had been one of the beneficiaries of the political turmoil which has wracked Egypt since 2010, with plenty of British holidaymakers considering it a viable option for a week of warm weather. That changed on June 26 of last year when 38 tourists – 30 of them British – were murdered by a gunman while sunbathing on the beach at Sousse. For the last six months, the FO has advised against “all but essential travel” to the country.
When will that advice be changed?
It’s impossible to say. Unlike Sharm el Sheikh, where the main concern is that the airport may be insufficiently secure – a problem which, in theory, can be fixed – the terror threat in Tunisia is ongoing. The FO says that “the threat from terrorism in Tunisia is high,” and advises against all but essential travel to the country.
Thomson and Thomas Cook have both ruled out selling breaks to the North African state until April 30 at the earliest. However, as with Sharm el Sheikh, you can, currently, book a break to a destination such as Sousse for May, or a later point. A Thomson spokesperson says: “There is interest among customers for these deals. People are still booking holidays to these destinations.”
Additional reporting and updates by Lizzie Porter
Terrorism in Egypt
Terrorism in Egypt
More than 1,000 dead
1,106 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 1993, with more police than terrorists killed
Islamic terrorists kill 58 tourists, three police officers and a tour guide at Deir el-Bahri, across the River Nile from Luxor, an archaeological site popular with visitors. Six Britons were among the dead.
Tourist hotels were targeted in the October attack, which consisted of three bombs. The explosions left 34 dead and 171 injured. The Egyptian government blamed Palestinians.
Three were left dead after three related incidents in the capital, said to be in response to the government’s clampdown after the Sinai bombings
Sharm el-Sheikh attacks
A series of bomb attacks targeting the popular tourist city of Sharm el-Sheikh killed 88 people and wounding 150, making it the most deadly terrorist attack in Egyptian history. 11 Britons were killed.
Islamic terrorists carried out three suicide bomb attacks in the city of Dahab, killing 23 people. The dead were mostly Egyptians, but included a German, Lebanese, Russian, Swiss and a Hungarian.
Khan el-Khalili bombing
A French teenager was killed when a bomb exploded in Khan el-Khalili in eastern Cairo. Two further incidents in the capital in February were said to be related — the stabbing of an American teacher and a firebomb thrown at a Metro train.
A New Year’s Day car bomb in the northern city of Alexandria killed 21 people.
Tourist bus bombed
Four people including three believed to be South Korean Christian pilgrims were killed by a bomb in February that tore through a bus near Egypt’s border with Israel in the Sinai peninsula.
A suicide bomber and two other suspected Islamic terrorists attacked an ancient Egyptian temple popular with tourists near Luxor. The attack outside the Temple of Karnak was the first to target the site since 1997.